It was as recently as late June – two months ago – that we were writing on this blog that Al Amarah in the southern, British sector of Iraq had become the "badlands".
So far had the security situation deteriorated that routine patrols in the hopelessly inadequate "Snatch" Land Rovers had been abandoned and patrolling was limited to daily sallies in Challenger MBTs and Warriors. We recalled how, in order to carry out border patrols from their base in Al Amarah, the King's Royal Hussars were having to rely on their Land Rovers being airlifted by helicopters past the town, to avoid their being attacked en route.
Now, two month after our report, we are being told that the security situation has improved so radically that the British Army can afford to leave their base and hand over security to local Iraqi forces.
It is in that context that one must read the report in today’s Daily Telegraph which records that "jubilant Iraqi looters" stripped the military base after the British forces pulled out. Thousands of jubilant Iraqis, we are told, looted the base: everything from doors and window frames to corrugated roofing and metal pipes was pillaged.
No sooner had the British departed than a crowd gathered outside Camp Abu Naji. Three companies of Iraqi troops stationed in the base initially dispersed them with shots into the air but, the following morning, a mob of between 2,000 and 5,000 returned, hundreds of them armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades. After sporadic fighting the Iraqi troops retreated to a corner of the camp as the base was stripped.
Hundreds gathered around the local offices of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric whose followers had fired 281 mortar rounds and rockets at the camp, to offer their congratulations. A loudspeaker repeatedly broadcast the triumphant message: "This is the first Iraqi city that has kicked out the occupiers." By nightfall, said Lt Rifaat Taha Yaseen, of the Iraqi army's 10th Division, "everything" had been taken.
Says the Telegraph, "The capacity of Iraqi security forces to secure the country is the central plank of the British exit strategy. That they seem unable to secure even their own bases does not augur well."
In fact, the British strategy is a sham. It is plain as a pikestaff that the Iraqi forces are unable to maintain order – and neither can the British with their current force structure, equipment and numbers. But, rather than admit this and do the honourable thing, declaring that it is pulling out, our government is doing it on the sly. It is pretending things are under control and that it is achieving its objectives.
Once again, all we get is spin and lies, this time to dress up the fact that, when it comes to our policy in Iraq, we have made an ignominious retreat.